Insurance Times spoke to new Partners& chief executive Phil Barton to hear his plans for the future of the business and why he thinks the broking industry is in need of a reset

Phil Barton is well-known in the insurance industry, having held a number of roles in insurance, including as the chief executive of Jelf. And that is why his latest move is sure to be watched with eager eyes across the industry.

With the launch of Partners&, which brings together five separate broking businesses, Barton marks his return to the industry, having left his previous role at Jelf in March 2019, at which time he decided to take stock of the industry and chart out his next move.

“I spent a little while thinking about the state of the market, what the issues were and what a next generation insurance advisory business would look like,” he told Insurance Times.

“I obviously took counsel from some wise folk in the business and began to build a vision for the business that combines the very best traditions of broking with state-of-the-art technology.”

And that coming together of the new and the old of insurance is key to Barton’s ambitions for his new business.

He has already started incorporating the cutting edge technology he speaks of by way of a partnership with Acturis, and this has seen MRIB and Independents move across to the Partners& brand, with the remaining businesses expected to be on-boarded before the end of the year.

“We have been working hard since November to effect that Acturis transition, and we have a fantastic team of people within the firm that are able to lead on that,” Barton says.

Getting primed for growth

But this focus on integration does not mean that Barton has ruled out future acquisitions, stating that further funds are available from private equity partner Capital Z to aid Partners&’s growth ambitions, should they be needed.

“We bought those businesses to create a platform that combined work skills with sufficient scale to build on the plan we have created,” he says. “That’s our first phase, and we are very much concentrated now on bringing those five businesses together in a state-of-the-art technology infrastructure to allow us to deliver that seamless advice that we are seeking to deliver.

“But we do have funds, Capital Z and the first tranche of funds amounted to some £25m, which allowed us to create the platform, and we have further funds at our disposal to execute our growth strategy.”

But for now, at least, Barton is concentrated on the initial launch and integration of the Partners& business, and he is very well aware that the space in which Partners& operates has had its fair share of previous competitors who have failed to make things work, but Barton remains undeterred.

“We want to be a business that is committed to seamless advice in delivering across the whole spectrum of risk management, employee benefits and insurance in a way that others have tried but failed, by using technology very ably,” he says. “We also wanted to put advisers and our people back at the centre of the business, and our concept of partnership is really fundamental for the whole business that we are creating.

“Everyone in our firm is a partner in the business, we partner with our clients for the long-term, and we partner with organisations within our ecosystem.”

This partnership business model means that every Partners& employee has a share of profits, as well as the same benefits programme and holiday entitlement, irrespective of role or seniority.

“We are wiping away the traditional hierarchical structures you usually see in pretty staid insurance broking businesses, and bringing something fresh and new to the market,” Barton says.

Refinding the market’s focus

This fresh approach to doing business is something that Barton sees as essential to the business’s success.

“The market has lost sight of its purpose, which is to serve clients,” he says. “There has been such a high frequency of acquisition activity, which has driven multiples to eye-watering levels, and as a consequence there seems to be a level of short termism in the market.

“This business is very much predicated on long-term relationships, mutually beneficial relationships around partnerships, and is prepared to take a longer-term view.”

Baron says the aim of Partners& is to be the best, not the biggest, and this is why he is confident the business is in safe hands with its choice of private equity partner.

“Capital Z are specialists in the sector and take a long-term view – their longest holding is 13 years, and their average is eight years, which is unusual for private equity,” he says. “I have known Capital Z for the best part of 10 years, they were the firm that supported Jelf, and when we did our tender for our private equity partner, Capital Z were the outstanding choice.”

And Capital Z are not the only familiar face that herald from Barton’s time at the helm of Jelf, with Chris Jelf also joining Barton at Partners& in the role of group commercial director. Fellow insurance luminary Stuart Reid is also completing a return to the industry, taking on the role of chairman.

“There’s a huge wealth of experience we are going to bring to bear, albeit we will do things differently,” Barton says. “I have worked hard putting a highly talented top team together, and we have made good calls in the businesses we have brought together, all of which have been handpicked to create the platform we want.

“Our culture is predicated on people, so getting the right talent and building the right talent has been the primary mission. The acquisitions we bought have been hand-picked because of the talent they have and the specialist areas they have worked within, and because of the culture they live on a day-to-day basis.”

Read more…What does Aon’s purchase of Willis Towers Watson mean for brokers?

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